In my head, I am a really good skater. I could tell you exactly what you need to do to accomplish intermediate moves, exactly which muscle groups should be lighting up as you execute them, and where your center of gravity should be at all times. But, put me in the skates and I’m really good at going forward and backward, and look like Bambi trying to do anything else.
Nah, I’m better than Bambi because I can stay on my feet, but I do tend to sling my arms around a lot.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between being able to do, and being able to teach. I could probably teach you to do a skating jump without ever leaving the ground myself. I hate the adage that suggests teachers can’t “do”, so they’ve settled for something less than. Doing is one hell of a lot easier than teaching, as anyone who has ever attempted to show a child to tie a shoelace can attest. I think velcro strap shoes were invented by a mother who just gave up.
Full disclosure: After years of trying to teach my son to tie his shoes, I quit. He preferred me doing it for him, so he would fake not being able to do it himself. I decided that eventually peer pressure would light a fire under him, and he’d figure it out when his social group shamed him out of velcro. That worked. He ties like a pro now.
Thor and I were talking about differences in how his father and I approach things, the other day, and I said, “You know, Daddy and I are patient in different ways. For instance, Daddy is much more patient with you when it comes to homework and school work. He’s really good at helping you learn from books, and he is very, very patient with that.” That’s the truth. I’m a terrible homework mother.
I get frustrated because I feel like the child is being purposefully obtuse (and because experience with things like tying shoelaces has taught me that he will pull a fake out) and my reaction to that ruins the learning environment. I’m much more patient with other people’s kids when it comes to book learnin’. I might expect too much out of mine.
Teaching is hard work because it requires knowing how to do The Thing, being able to break The Thing down to its smallest parts, and being able to rebuild The Thing from the bottom up in such a way that someone else can follow along with you, and then do on their own. It requires an understanding of how to communicate each of those abilities in a variety of different ways, to reach a variety of different learners. And, it requires the ability to manage different personalities all at the same time.
Teaching is a juggling act of the highest order, and requires a mental coordination that rivals any choreography. A good teacher can be the difference between life and death.
I’ve written before about Mrs. Mendina, the teacher who refused to let me ruin my education. In my sophomore year, I decided–and I mean made a fully formed, thought out, carefully considered willful decision–to stop being the Good Girl and to rebel. Mrs. Mendina presented the first opportunity for me to test out my badness, and when I made my move, she jerked me up by my boot straps so hard, it left my head spinning.
I’m no quitter, though, so I tried again. And again. Finally, she told me she didn’t know what was going on with me, but she was not going to let me fool around and hurt myself. And she didn’t. And I didn’t. Much. I did fail P.E. that year.
Here’s how you fail P.E.: Don’t go to class, and when you are offered the opportunity to write an essay rather than participate, sit in the library reading Voltaire and sulking about how no one understands you instead of writing your essay. Then, on the day your essay is due, swear up and down that you slid the essay under the gym teacher’s door, and insist someone must have accidentally thrown it away. Swear. On. Your. Life. Refuse to back down. Refuse to back down, even with the vice principal tells you point blank that he knows you are lying, and threatens you with video evidence. Even when the P.E. teacher crosses her arms and calls you a liar–because you are a liar! Swear. Refuse. Cry. Make up the details of your essay on the spot as evidence that you know what you are talking about. And fail. That’s how it is done.
Don’t fail P.E. It isn’t worth the stress. Just go play the volleyball, and sulk that no one understands you while you spike balls into the backs of people’s heads.
I wish Mrs. Mendina had taught P.E. as well as American History. I might have passed.